Alexander the Great fell in love with this surprisingly sweet fruit in Asia, where he found them growing wild.
When he returned to Europe from his military expeditions, he brought some with him. The ancient Romans gave the apricot its name — From the Latin word "precocious" — because the apricot is the first fruit of the season to ripen.
The name stuck and the apricot spread all over, from Europe, to America, and all the way to Australia.
The apricot is a fantastic fruit — loaded with beta carotene, iron, fibre, vitamin C and several B vitamins and if you dry an apricot, its nutrients get more concentrated, making dried apricots a great snack. Whether fresh or dried, eating apricots will help you fight the effects of ageing, protect your eyesight, ward off cancer and prevent heart disease.
The wonders of apricots
-- If you get indigestion from eating tomato products — the prime source of lycopene — here's great news for you. Apricots, especially dried ones, are another source of lycopene, the amazing carotenoid that can help prevent prostate, breast and several other cancers. Though apricots aren't nearly as good a source of lycopene — munching them throughout the day can boost your lycopene quicker than you think. Apricots are also a good source of the most famous carotenoid of them all — beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces your risk of some types of stomach and intestinal cancers. To get these benefits, experts suggest getting at least 5 milligrams of beta carotene each day which is equal to about six fresh apricots.
-- Eating dried apricots as a snack can punch up your levels of iron, potassium, beta carotene, magnesium and copper. These nutrients help control your blood pressure and prevent heart disease. Plus, as five dried apricots can give you up to 3gm of fibre which sweeps cholesterol out of your system before it has a chance to clog your arteries.
-- What you eat can affect your vision.
Since apricots are a good source of beta carotene which your body converts to vitamin A and several other nutrients, they could be just what you are looking for.
-- Believe it or not, some people claim apricots are the secret to a long and healthy living. They get this idea from the Hunzas, a tribe living in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. Common health problems like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc., do not exist in that area. And researchers are wondering if apricots, a main part of their diet are partly responsible. The Hunzas eat fresh apricots in season and dry the rest to eat during their long, cold winter.
Although eating apricots cannot guarantee you will live a long life, recent research suggests the little fruit may help you live a better life. The B vitamins in dried apricots may protect you from Alzheimer's and age related problems like memory loss and impaired brain functioning.
Keep your eyes peeled for the tastiest of the bunch. They will wear a beautiful, bright orange skin and they will look and feel plump. Avoid apricots with yellowish or greenish tinges and those that are hard, shrunken or bruised. Just like their cousin the peach, apricots can ripen on your kitchen counter at room temperature. When they feel and smell ripe, wrap them in a paper bag and store them in your refrigerator. They will stay fresh for several days.
A word of caution
Many dried apricots are preserved with sulphites. Though these preservatives don't affect most people, they can bring on a life threatening allergic reaction in some asthma sufferers. If you have asthma, watch out for sulphite warnings on packages of dried apricots. It is best to play it safe — buy the untreated kind or stick with fresh apricots.